Will Consumers Try Plant-Based Fish Products?
Amid the increasing ethical and environmental concerns of overfishing and the destruction of ecosystems, some advocates are turning their attention to promoting plant-based fish meat. However, despite the benefits, consumer acceptance of plant-based fish meat remains low. Factors such as food neophobia (reluctance to try new foods) and the perception of fish meat as a healthy alternative to other types of meat may reduce consumer interest in these products.
In this study, scientists evaluated the attitudes and perceptions of Atlantic Canadians regarding plant-based fish products. 71% of participants consumed conventional fish products between 1 and 10 times per month. Among non-fish eaters, 50% gave ethical reasons for not eating fishes, 25% said they didn’t like the taste, and 25% gave environmental reasons. 60% of participants said they had no knowledge of plant-based fish alternatives, while 26% said they had limited knowledge. Because the study is a survey, researchers found out whether people thought they’d like to try plant-based fish, and not whether they’d actually try it, which is a major limitation.
Comments regarding plant-based fish products were categorized into six themes: environmental concerns, taste, preference for actual fishes, texture, positive responses, and uncertainty. Some participants acknowledged plant-based fish meat as a sustainable solution to overfishing, while others emphasized taste and texture as vital factors affecting their acceptance of such products.
Attitudes towards plant-based fish products were not entirely negative. Some participants were open to trying these products and reported having enjoyed consuming them before. Nevertheless, a group of participants expressed uncertainty about plant-based fish meat or said that there was no need for a fish substitute.
Overall, participants believed that plant-based fish products would not taste like conventional fishes. Participants rated the healthiness and naturalness of plant-based fish meat as neither high nor low. Most participants reported that they would try vegan fish dishes but were less inclined to include them in their regular diet. The majority said that they are not willing to pay more for these alternatives. Those with food neophobia were less likely to believe that plant-based fish alternatives tasted like fishes or were natural, but the neophobia did not affect their willingness to try these products.
After receiving information about the positive effects of plant-based fish products on the environment, a higher number of participants expressed an interest in trying them and adding them to their regular diet. This outcome suggests the significant impact of health and environmental messaging in shaping consumer acceptance and choices.
It’s worth noting another dynamic at play: the Atlantic Canada region has a thriving fishing industry. Participants with ties to the fishing industry were less likely to think that plant-based fish products were healthy and ethical. They were also more likely to think that plant-based fish products are disgusting and don’t taste the same as conventional fishes. Nevertheless, there was no difference in willingness to try these foods between those involved in the fishing industry and those not involved. Interestingly, both groups showed an increased willingness to try to incorporate plant-based fish dishes into their diet after learning about the environmental benefits.
Addressing consumers’ key concerns may help increase public acceptance of new products. According to the results of this study, advocates should focus on educating consumers about the environmental benefits of plant-based fish products, while animal-free seafood producers should pay attention to replicating the taste and texture of conventional fishes.